N.J. film festival highlights the risk takers in the environmental movement

 Green Peace activists approach Russian tankers. (Photo from  the film A Fierce Green Fire)

Green Peace activists approach Russian tankers. (Photo from the film A Fierce Green Fire)

The theme for this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Fest, Jan. 30 – Feb. 9, is risk. “We are highlighting individual stories of people taking risks,” said Kim Dorman, Library and Programming Assistant who runs the festival with Founding Director Susan Conlon. “The filmmakers are taking risks to tell their stories. There are risks to a society by actions taken, and there are risks of doing nothing.”

Both Dorman and Conlon point out that in environmental activism, there is no such thing as instant gratification – making change takes time. A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet, to be screened Sunday, Feb. 2, 11 a.m., and narrated by Robert Redford, Ashley Judd, Van Jones, Isabel Allende and Meryl Streep, traces the history of environmental activism over 50 years, from conservation to climate change.

From the Sierra Club’s battle to halt dams in the Grand Canyon; Love Canal residents’ struggle against 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals; Greenpeace’s campaigns to save whales and baby harp seals; the fight to save the Amazon rainforest; to the 25-year effort to address climate change – the movement may have come a long way, but there are miles to go before we sleep.

In Bidder 70, to screen Saturday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m., University of Utah economics student Tim DeChristopher risks his own freedom to commit an act of civil disobedience to protect the pristine acres surrounding Utah’s national parks. When faced with the opportunity to disrupt the auction of Utah’s wild lands to oil and gas developers in 2008 by registering as “bidder #70,” DeChristopher outbid industry giants on land parcels and effectively safeguarded thousands of acres adjacent to treasures such as Arches and Canyonlands National Park.

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DeChristopher was indicted on two federal felonies and sentenced to two years in prison. We are reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who also served time for fighting for justice: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

DeChristopher could be the hero of a folk song played on a Martin, Gibson or Taylor guitar. Another film in the festival, “Musicwood,” screening Thursday, Feb. 6, 7 p.m., is about a consortium formed by these guitar makers to help preserve the land in Alaska where the Sitka spruce used in instrument manufacture grows.

For hundreds of years guitars have been made the same way, but as the wood of the world is depleted, this will change. Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars, Chris Martin of Martin Guitar and Dave Berryman of Gibson Guitar travel into the heart of one of the most primeval rainforests to negotiate with Native American loggers and change the way this forest is managed before it’s too late – there may be only six to 10 years of big trees left.

Highlights of other films to be screened:

Thin Ice: The Inside Story of Climate Science, Thursday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m. Scientists working in the Arctic, Antarctic, Southern Ocean, New Zealand, Europe and the United States talk about their work, their hopes and fears, resulting in a portrait of the global community of researchers racing to understand the planet’s changing climate and provide a compelling case for rising CO2 as the main cause. “This film was made by scientists but presents the facts in an easily accessible way,” said Conlon.

Parrot Confidential, Friday, Jan. 31, 4 p.m. From the wilds of Costa Rica to suburban America, a cast of parrots tell unforgettable tales about the world they share with humans. “People are really touched by animal films,” said Conlon. “They are the gateway to how we’re treating the ocean and other habitats.”

To Be Forever Wild, Saturday, Feb. 1, 1 p.m. Created by a group of filmmakers, musicians and artists in New York’s Catskill Mountains from a little red cabin perched above a waterfall, the film explores the landscapes considered to be “America’s first wilderness.” Also profiled are the artists, hikers, scientists, farmers and young people who live in the region.

Brooklyn Farmer, Saturday, Feb. 1, 3 p.m., explores the challenges facing Brooklyn Grange, a group of urban farmers who expand a rooftop farm from Long Island City, Queens, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. More about urban gardening in Growing Cities, to screen Thursday, Feb. 6, 4 p.m.

William and the Windmill, Monday, Feb. 3, 4 p.m. A 14-year-old from a family of subsistence farmers in Malawi was forced to drop out of school due to a devastating famine. Turning to self-education, William saw a picture of a windmill in a textbook and learned that windmills could pump water and generate electricity. Using scrap parts, William built a functioning windmill that not only rescued his family from poverty but attracted the attention of the larger world.

Tiny: A Story About Living Small, Friday, Feb. 7, 4 p.m. After a decade of travel, filmmaker Christopher Smith approaches his 30th birthday and decides it’s time to plant roots. He buys a five-acre plot of land in the mountains of Colorado and sets out to build a Tiny House from scratch. “Tiny Housers” live in homes smaller than the average parking space, often built on wheels to bypass building codes and zoning laws. The film takes us inside six of these homes.

Invisible Ocean: Plankton and Plastic, Saturday, Feb. 8, 11 a.m. (film premiere). In this nine-minute film, artist Mara Haseltine finds an unsettling presence in samples of plankton she collected that inspires her to create a sculpture revealing an ongoing invisible battle beneath the water’s surface, showing that the microscopic ocean world affects all life on Earth.

*** The full schedule ***

All screenings are at the Princeton Public Library at 65 Witherspoon St. Princeton, NJ 08542. This year’s sponsors are Church & Dwight, Inc., Terra Momo Restaurant Group, and The Whole Earth Center of Princeton.


The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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